Aaron Judge, Rafael Devers to define next Yankees-Red Sox era


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Rafael Devers staying in Boston on an 11-year, $331 million extension seems to set up a nearly decade-long rivalry with Aaron Judge, who signed up for another nine years at $360 million last month to stay in The Bronx.

Theirs will not be the last megadeals handed out by the fabled AL East rivals in the coming years, but for now they are the two largest contracts handed out this offseason — after the Giants backed out of a $350 million deal with Carlos Correa due to concerns about his surgically repaired ankle.

The teams clearly prioritized the two players: The Yankees decided against signing a top-tier free-agent shortstop during the past two offseasons as Judge’s free agency played out, and the Red Sox let a pair of their best young players depart over the past few years.

In 2019, the Red Sox had three of the best young hitters in the game with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Devers all in their 20s. Now only Devers remains. Betts was famously traded to the Dodgers following that 2019 season in a bizarre cost-cutting move, and Bogaerts signed an 11-year, $280 million deal with the Padres this offseason. It is doubtful the Red Sox have enough to be a threat in the division in 2023, but they surely will be a factor again soon enough with Devers in the middle of the lineup.

But even as the Red Sox continue to search for an identity, Devers’ presence alone figures to be bad news for the Yankees and their other $300 million man, Gerrit Cole, in particular.

Rafael Devers is set to torment the Yankees for years to come after agreeing to an 11-year, $331 million contract extension with the Red Sox.
Getty Images

Devers, who turned 26 in October, has 19 career homers against the Yankees. The only Red Sox player with more home runs versus the Yankees at that age was Ted Williams, who had 20 — though that was despite Williams missing two seasons due to military service.

And no one has been hurt by Devers’ power more than Cole. Devers is just 7-for-30 against the right-hander, but six of those hits have been home runs. It’s the most home runs Cole has allowed to any player.

After Devers hit two of those homers in a 6-5 Yankees win at Fenway Park on July 7, Cole was left searching for an explanation for Devers’ dominance.

“I’m open for suggestions,” Cole said with a laugh.

But it wasn’t all a joke for Cole. “You guys are all watching the game, too,” he said. “I mean, obviously he has the ability to ride the ball out at the bottom of the zone. He has the ability to catch up to my fastball, he’s proven that, so both pitches were pretty well executed.

Gerrit Cole reacts after giving up a three-run home run to Rafael Devers.
Gerrit Cole reacts after giving up a three-run home run to Rafael Devers at Fenway Park on July 7.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“It’s pretty wild. He’s just been able to hit everything. There hasn’t been a mis-hit, a roll-over one time [or a] lineout one time.”

Cole’s fortunes against Devers changed after that game, though. On July 17 in The Bronx, Cole held Devers hitless, striking him out twice and inducing one lineout. Cole got the best of Devers again at Fenway Park on Sept. 13 with a pair of strikeouts and a walk, and Cole finished the season with two more strikeouts and a walk against Devers at the Stadium on Sept. 23.

With Cole signed with the Yankees through 2028 — barring a highly unlikely opt-out after the 2024 season — the two will have plenty of chances to continue the matchup.

Brian Sabean’s full circle

When general manager Brian Cashman was first hired by the Yankees as an intern in 1986, Brian Sabean was in his second year with the organization and first year as director of scouting. Both rose through the organization over the next seven years: Sabean became Vice President of Player Development and scouting, and Cashman became an assistant GM under Gene Michael.

Cashman and Sabean worked together first in The Bronx and then at the player development site in Tampa.

San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean watches the team work out during the 2010 MLB playoffs.
Brian Sabean returns to the Yankees organization after multi-ring run with the Giants.
San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

So few understand Sabean’s ties to the Yankees and their Core Four period better than Cashman does.

“He’s one of the unsung heroes of our dynasty,’’ said Cashman, noting Sabean’s ties to the drafting, signing and development of just about all of the young players who factored into the Yankees’ World Series titles (1996, 1998-2000). “[Andy] Pettitte, [Derek] Jeter, [Mariano] Rivera and Bernie [Williams] and [Jorge] Posada, to name a few. He’s an architect of arguably one of the greatest farm systems ever assembled. It led to a dynasty that will last forever in the minds of Yankee fans. Bringing him back brings everything full circle.”

Sabean left the Yankees in 1993 to become GM of the Giants, and he led the team to three World Series titles.

The two remained connected as opposing general managers when Cashman got the GM job in The Bronx in 1998. Sabean placed a call to Cashman after Sabean’s contract expired with the Giants after last season.

Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte pose at the final game at Yankee Stadium in 2008.
Part of Brian Sabean’s Yankees legacy: The Core Four of Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.

“He’s got a hand in not just three world championships in San Francisco, but the four World Series titles we had here in the ’90s and 2000,’’ Cashman said. “He should be entitled to seven rings.”

West Coast, test coast

The balanced schedule MLB is introducing next season will reduce the number of games teams play within their division from 76 to 52. Though that may seem like good news for the Yankees, because the AL East is arguably the toughest division in the sport, it’s not that simple.

Last year, the Yankees had the best record within the division at 47-29, despite the Blue Jays, Rays and Orioles each finishing with overall records above .500. The Yankees also dominated the AL Central — as usual — with a 25-8 record.

But it gets more complicated after that: The Yankees went just 17-16 against the AL West and 10-10 in interleague games.

This year, the Yankees will have three trips to the West Coast, where they have struggled in the past.

Murakami Watch

Munetaka Murakami #55 of the Yakult Swallows celebrates hitting a solo home run in the 4th inning during the Japan Series Game Five against Orix Buffaloes at Tokyo Dome on November 25, 2021.
MLB teams already may be looking forward to the arrival of Japanese slugger Munetaka Murakami.
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Speaking of the West Coast … Shohei Ohtani can become a free agent following the upcoming season. The Yankees’ pursuit of the two-way superstar before the 2018 season was derailed by Ohtani’s desire to play out west, where he ended up with the Angels and has toiled away — along with Mike Trout — on a series of non-contending teams. The Yankees certainly will be among the teams interested in changing Ohtani’s mind if he does hit free agency again.

That brings us to one of the next Japanese stars potentially headed to MLB. Get ready for the Munetaka Murakami Watch.

The lefty-hitting corner infielder is only 22 and won’t be posted until after the 2025 season, but he’s coming off a season in which he hit 56 homers for the Yakult Swallows.

Earlier this month, on Japanese television, Murakami said he would like to play for a team on the West Coast, but also mentioned the Yankees. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is signed through 2024, with a $17 million team option for 2025.

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